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Monday, November 12, 2012

"Homeland," Season 2, Episode 7

BETTER CALL SAUL: Mandy Patinkin visits The Big House
"Homeland's" latest episode, "The Clearing," debuted on a weekend that saw two significant spy-related stories break in the real world. General David Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA after revealing that he was having an affair with his biographer and possibly other trysts as well. Twitter lit up with "Homeland"-related gags; mine was "Since David Petraeus' resignation means a job opening at the CIA, I wonder if Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson will get promotions." In the world of fake spies, Skyfall had the biggest opening of any James Bond film in history.

Bond may be a covert agent, but his adventures seldom take him to the shadowy espionage world of manipulation, secrets and lies. In the later Roger Moore films, "Bond. James Bond" seems to be both a secret agent and world famous. In the real world, Petraeus dealt with state secrets all the time, and while I wouldn't speculate about his family life, he seemed willing to bring secrecy home with him. "Homeland" typically emphasizes the challenges of interpersonal trust, loyalty, deception and manipulation, themes that run through the major subplots this week.

"Oh, there you are Brody," Roya Hammad doesn't say when the episode begins and Brody "accidentally" runs into her while jogging. He pushes her for details about the Gettysburg shooting that left six federal agents dead, and she demurs, but indicates that the resolution will come soon. She also urges Brody to keep Walden happy. "I always do," he snaps, with a pissy expression on this face that signals how much he hates Walden.

Seeking to get an I.D. of The New Guy, Saul pays a visit to Aileen, the American terrorist in Abu Nazir's cell, with whom he shared a car ride last season. The guard warns him that she's a difficult prisoner: "A spitter, a hitter and a shitter." Aileen looks terrible, asks to talk upstairs with a view outdoors. (Director John Dahl, who helmed such great neo-noirs as The Last Seduction, offers a cool shot of chains slithering down Aileen's legs to the floor when guard unlocks her.) She claims to know the guy in the photo, but won't provide information unless she gets a new cell with a window.

Carrie visits Quinn in hospital. Whatever the death squad took from the tailor shop, it left "no radioactive residue," so it probably isn't a dirty bomb. Carrie speculates that Walden is the target. "Again?" asks Quinn. "The World Trade Center was hit in 1993, and hit again more recently," Carrie points out. Zing! Despite being full of bullet holes, Quinn decides to discharge himself and drops his hospital gown in front of Carrie. "Quinn!" "Like you've never seen a dick before," he says. I wish Carrie had replied: "I saw one in this room even before you dropped the gown."

The Brodies convoy in limos to the Versailles-like estate of a big fundraiser. In one limo, Dana tells Finn that she attended the funeral of the hit-and-run victim, and convinces Finn that they should tell their parents. In another limo, Jessica and Brody chat about other vice presidential contenders, including a woman, then Jessica reports her last conversation with Mike. "He told me you killed Tom." Jessica says words to the effect Brody being honest with her is as important, if not more so, than a potential murder (a point echoed later in the Dana plot). Brody lies beautifully, mixing truth, falsehood and misinformation: "Yeah, I did play a part in stopping him."

After they arrive at the home of the superrich guy Rex (John Finn), whose name signals that he's a kingmaker, Brody calls Carrie and chews her out about Mike. Carrie says she'll take care of him, and then Carrie and Quinn talk about Brody. "He's a fucking double agent. No shit he's stressed," says Carrie. "So we empower this guy," says Quinn, suggesting they come up with a way for Brody to feel more in charge, even if he isn't. Later, Carrie confronts Mike and chews him out: "Cease and fucking desist." (Carrie's use of profanity this week reminds me of Deb Morgan on "Dexter.") She's harsh about Mike's private investigations, but sympathetic about his feelings for Jessica. The subtext hints that she has similar, unrequited feelings for Brody.

Saul goes to the warden at Aileen's Supermax prison to ask about getting her a cell with a view, and he's a total jerk about it. He even makes a remark about Saul's grooming that I couldn't decide was vaguely anti-Semitic or what. Saul's scenes with Aileen play very well, with Dahl giving their conversation plenty of room to breathe. The spy and the prisoner seem to form an emotional connection.

Poolside at the mansion, Brody mingles uncomfortable with the One Percenters and their trophy wives, who ask inappropriate questions about his captivity and ogle his wounds. (It reminds me of a scene in Coriolanus in which the war hero has to show his scars to win public office.) During a one-on-one with Rex at the stables, his host tells Brody, "I'm sorry about the lookie-loos at the pool" and reveals he's a Vietnam-era Navy vet. Rex isn't an enthusiastic fan of Walden, but likes Brody: "I'm looking eight years down the road at you." Brody assures Rex that he's not the guy Rex wants, but the protests only make Brody seem more humble and authentic.

Afterward, Brody gets a call from Carrie, who has him come to a clearing and meet her. Brody finds that Rex was "The guy I could have been," and Carrie starts kissing him this is how she's empowering him. Brody bristles. "I do feel used. And played. And lied to. But I also feel good." Rather than enjoy some afternoon empowerment, however, he leaves her in the clearing. Again, Carrie's feelings for Brody seem to be messing with her better judgment.

Finn wanders around the party, drinking half-empty wineglasses, kind of like Ted Knight's son Spalding in Caddyshack, while Dana trails him about the murder, kind of like Banquo's ghost in Macbeth. Finally they tell their moms: "We killed someone," says a devastated Dana. The moms meet privately after the kids revelation, and Walden's wife says "I'll take care of it... You'll have to follow my lead here." Jessica doesn't like the idea of the crime being papered over. She and Dana both endorse honesty as the best policy.

Saul goes over Warden Asshat's head to the attorney general, who eventually agrees to the request. Saul brings bread, cheese and wine to Aileen, to help win her over, and loans Aileen his eyeglasses so she can read the legal document. I was convinced that Saul was being so nice as a ploy that he didn't actually get the go-ahead and was playing good cop to trick Aileen into revealing The New Guy without actually securing her a different cell.

She identifies the New Guy as being a terrorist probably based in New Jersey, so Quinn hops a plane and pops some painkillers. They bust in the home, but discover a goofball musician not the new guy at all. Saul rushes back to Aileen's holding cell and discovers that she's slashed her wrist with the glass from Saul's specs. She dies with a sentimental speech about seeing sunlight that's unusually corny for "Homeland."

The Waldens and Brodies have separate talks about their teenagers. Brody finds Dana and says "Let's go to the Metro Police," in defiance of the Walden's wishes. Estes reports Brody's movement, and Carrie intercepts them at the police station, saying that they can't make this official, lest it mess up the mission. "You won't have a deal anymore if you do this." Brody acquiesces, to Dana's disappointment, and Brody snarls at Carrie, "None of this is fucking OK!"

How mad will Dana be that the grown-ups quashed her confession? Will she reveal to anyone that Brody's a secret Muslim? Maybe not, but I bet she and Jessica become allies, and that she tells her mother about Carrie's involvement, which will cause Jessica to go ballistic.

HitFix's Alan Sepinwall points out that Rex was played by John Finn, who played the lieutenant on "Cold Case," which was created by Meredith Stiehm (writer of this week's episode.

Finn was also on "EZ Streets," an excellent cop/crime drama that would've flourished on cable, but debuted before its time.

"He was a real soldier." Pssst, Brody! Rex was in the Navy I think they prefer to be called "sailor."

Interesting observation from "The AV Club's" Todd VanDerWerff: "I don't know if [Lewis is] being asked to carry so much of the show because of Danes' pregnancy or what (I'd bet anything Quinn was brought in as a character because of this, to lighten the amount of action Danes was asked to perform), but the show has somehow made Brody even more important than he was in season one, and it's deepened his character in really interesting ways."

I can only assume that Operation Brody remains an off-the-books mission and that the CIA has not reinstated Carrie.

Walden scolds Estes about the Gettysburg massacre, and has another scene puzzling over Finn with his wife, but he's still something of a mystery. I feel like "Homeland's" holding something back regarding Walden maybe we'll find out by the end of the season.

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